Monday, September 10, 2007

Strangers To Ourselves

Every now and then you get the opportunity to see your city through another person’s eyes. In the case of friends who might be visiting, it’s not unexpected that they will comment on things they’ve never seen as they take in the sights that distinguish your town from any other. It is surprising (or at least I found it so), however, when people who are in town as part of their working lives point things out, things that comprise your everyday life, as strange.

The first time I was aware of the potential strangeness of my everyday life was on an occasion when one of my Sarsaparilla colleagues, David, was visiting
Brisbane for a conference. We met up, and he commented on the ibis, or was it the indigenous scrub turkeys, that populate the university campus where the conference was held, and which I attend. I’m not sure if it was the ibis or the scrub turkeys that David commented upon, because around the same time, I had lunch with a visiting scholar—his work was relevant to my thesis—who also made a comment on either the ibis or the scrub turkeys.


In the case of the comment on the ibis, my response was to say that they were a problem in Brisbane. Due, no doubt, to the loss of their natural habitat in water ways, perhaps because of the ongoing drought, ibis have increasingly sought food in public parks and in eateries that border on green areas. The university is an ideal site for scavenging ibis, as are the parks across the CBD. To counter the problem, in addition to ‘Do Not Feed the Ibis’ signs, the council employed the services of an eagle to swoop the ibis, and so deter them from menacing people in public areas.

The surprise expressed about the presence of scrub turkeys was that they roosted in the trees. It’s my experience that the scrub turkeys scavenge far less than the ibis. (I’ve seen an ibis use it’s curved beak to extract the filling from a sandwich). The scrub turkeys occasionally jump on tables at one eatery on campus, but everywhere else they seem content to dig holes in the gardens and nestle in for their dust baths, or rearrange the mulch into piles for their nests amongst the bamboo near the lakes, and roost in the trees too, I guess.

This past week, I’ve been introduced to some further apparently strange things about the life I take forgranted. I organised an academic symposium where many of the participants were from other parts of Australia. As part of those arrangements I chose the caterer and approved the food that was served. It was a fairly easy process. I thought the caterer offered fairly standard fare: gourmet sandwiches and wraps on the first day, a choice of lamb and couscous salad or chicken Caesar on the second (with vegetarian options), and the usual tea, coffee, and juices for drinks, while the morning and afternoon teas were various combinations of muffins, scones, Danishes and fruit platters.

Perhaps it wasn’t so strange that the symposium participants commented on the differences in the food from that which they were used to eating on such occasions, given that one of the concerns of the symposium was about regional cultural differences across Australia.

From the beginning, the people from Darwin pounced on the strawberries that are currently in season in Queensland. I was told that they just didn’t get decent tasting strawberries in Darwin, and while I had a vague recollection of never really having strawberries as part of my Far North Queensland upbringing, I suppose I had forgotten about the rarity of certain produce in remote areas. Even the presence of the fruit platters was commented upon; it was an enormous treat when one was used to being served biscuits at conferences. I am sure that fruit platters bursting with strawberries, grapes, watermelon, rock melon (cantaloupe), honey dew melon, oranges etc, have always been part of the Brisbane conference landscape.

The other unfamiliar moment that struck me about the response to the catering was when one of the people from Melbourne commented that we had pineapple juice in the selection of juices that were available. I said, ‘yes, don’t you?’ I learned that it wasn’t considered standard fare. And, again, when I thought about it, I realised that of course it wasn’t. Looking at the bottle I saw that the juice was from somewhere on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, just north of Brisbane, where fields of pineapples abound.

I suppose, the thing is, that many of us are used to thinking of Australia as a fairly homogenous society, in spite of (or perhaps because of?) the rhetoric of Multi-Culturalism. And suddenly, in the most banal of circumstances, over a table of food, shared between, it must be said, a fairly homogenous group of academic and industry researchers, there were differences that I hadn’t contemplated. My world was made unexpectedly strange.

And that was before I saw the woman from Melbourne pouring pineapple juice into her coffee.

11 comments:

Mark said...

Excellent post, Kirsty!

Some friends of mine were up in Brisbane for the first time for a conference in 02 and I suspect left thinking the ibises (or is it ibii) were the biggest political issue in Brisbane's local politics!

You have to watch those scrub turkeys at Wordsmiths. They stick their beaks into the milkshake glasses then the staff don't wash them carefully enough!

Plus the chips are overpriced...

Lucy said...

Some of my friends here tease me about how I always order pineapple juice when it's available. I hadn't realised its scarcity was a regional thing...

Tim said...

Great post, Kirsty, with a killer final line.

I can remember driving through QLD with my family in 1985. My brother and I were fascinated by the ibis, which we called "stickybeaks" (we were four and six). I also remember my parents trying an exotic fruit that was apparently unknown in Victoria at the time. Clearly there's been some advances in produce transport in the intervening twenty years because these days I'm constantly picking avocado pieces out of salads and sandwiches.

ThirdCat said...

Is that the big pineapple? Because it doesn't look anywhere near as big as I remember it.

Kirsty said...

Yes Mark, you picked it, it's Wordsmiths where the turkeys are bolder; that's where I saw the ibis extract the sandwich filling too.

Lucy, I remember you ordering pineapple juice at Wordies, but of course I didn't think it was strange at all.

Tim, I watched the Melbourne woman pour pineapple juice into her coffee, and thought that was just taking pineapple someplace it should never go. I took pity and stopped her before she had a sip, suggesting she might prefer the milk...

3C it is the Big Pineapple. Did you see it when you were a kid? It's always disappointing when these giant fruits and vegetables and other things don't live up to their enormity in our childhood memories.

ThirdCat said...

When I was around 8 I saw it. Really - and I don't mean to be rude - but it's more like a medium-sized pineapple, isn't it?

Kirsty said...

I'm not even sure that it exists as a tourist attraction any more 3C, but perhaps the structure is still around, afterall, what does one do with a *medium* sized pineapple?

Ariel said...

Your spread sounds good to me. I'm impressed by the presence of couscous.

Yeah, great last line ... is that really TRUE?

Kirsty said...

It is TRUE Ariel, although it wasn't deliberate. Both bottles were plastic and had blue lids and the pineapple juice was cloudy, like a fat-free milk at a stretch, or if you're having a conversation and not concentrating on what you're doing
: )

David said...

It was the scrub turkeys KIrsty. Melbourne is filled to the brim with ibii.

genevieve said...

Hey Kirsty, ibis are called 'chip birds' in Healesville, renowned for its native animal sanctuary on the outer fringes of Melbourne. Though I have had my thumb pinched by a kookaburra near there who also liked chips.

And I do remember being far more conscious of tropical fruits in Brissie and surrounds (yes, Noooooosa), last time I was up there. A while ago now though.